The Truth About Ministering To The Elderly

I have been a Presbyterian pastor for twenty-five years, the last three of which I was privileged to serve as an aged-care chaplain. I ministered in three Presbyterian nursing homes with a community of 220 residents, some 400 staff, and hundreds of family members. As I wrap up this ministry to return to parish, I want to share both some of the challenges I experienced and some of the solutions to these challenges that became apparent to me over those brief three years.

This is not intended to be a professional or academic paper: I do not engage here with scholarly literature, nor do I intend to tie my thoughts to doctrinal studies. These are simply “lessons learned”—lessons that I hope may assist others who labor in the same ministry.

I lost count over the past three years of how many Christians said to me: “Those old people must be very open to the gospel, as close to death as they are.” It’s a plausible idea, but not at all true to my experience. I did not at all find nursing home residents more open to the gospel, but generally less so than those younger in years with more years of life ahead of them. I begin by describing three challenges to bringing the gospel to the frail elderly, and five possible responses to those challenges. I conclude with a word about how all people serve God, no matter how frail and incapacitated they are.

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Campbell Markham | “Aged Care Ministry: 3 Challenges and 5 Responses” | October 24th, 2023


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3 comments

  1. What a wonderful, encouraging article, especially for those of us who are rapidly approaching very old age, and facing the prospect of failing faculties. I especially love the point that, “what counts is the posture of the heart.”
    Have saved this article so I can refer to it for future encouragement.

  2. I would add one more thing: Use the older people in your congregation to minister to the older people in the nursing homes. We older people (I’m 74) understand each other and can talk about mutual experiences with physical and mental deterioration that will ring true to each other. Which, of course, opens the way for our testimonies of God’s continuing work in our lives.

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